January 23, 2012

Officers and Altruism



*Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News on January 15, 2012

I was recently driving my squad car past an east side elementary school during dismissal. Some kids lingering in the crosswalk saw my uniform and ran up to say hello. One child seemed eager to get my attention and worked his way through the other kids to the window of my squad and said, “Look at my coat!” I admired his winter coat and told him so. He replied, “A police officer bought it for me.” Puzzled, I asked him which police officer but he just shrugged his shoulders and ran away.

This episode made me reflect upon the many altruistic acts performed by my fellow officers that I had witnessed over the years and realized there were many similar, but untold stories. Although it’s extremely contradictory to ask people to tell about acts of kindness they’ve performed because the mere fact that it’s altruistic means they seek no recognition, I sent out an email and asked our officers to provide instances where they, or someone they knew, used their position to benefit someone in need. As I sifted through the responses, I was absolutely overwhelmed by what I read— especially since there was a common theme to each story – a vehement request that their name not be used.
It is an honor to share a few with you:

One officer tells the story of transporting a female to jail who was arrested for retail theft. As it turns out, she was stealing school supplies for her daughter because she could not afford to buy them. A jail officer sought out the list of needed supplies, bought them, and delivered them to the mother.
An officer responded to a call to find a family of 6 with only one bed in their apartment. The kids were sleeping with blankets on the apartment floor so the officer donated a bed frame, mattress and bedding from her own home to the family in need.

Two officers responded to a home where a distraught family had just witnessed their dog get hit by a car. The dog had taken its last breath and the officers knew they couldn’t leave the family in their grieving state so they retrieved a blanket, wrapped the dog, and helped the kids write goodbye letters and place them with the dog for burial.

After taking a report from an elderly woman whose window-mounted air conditioner was stolen, the responding officers purchased another one and installed it for her.

But my favorite story left me breathless. An ex-prostitute with a drug habit was living on government aid in a housing project. She finally left the complex and went to rehab never to return to that life again. A police officer privately funded her stay in rehab because he believed that she could turn her life around.

The nature of a police officer’s job is to respond when people have been victimized or at their worst. While this is the part of the job that tends to wear on officers, it also provides opportunities to make a difference –the very reason most of them enter this profession. There were countless other stories of purchasing coats for those who were cold, buying and delivering groceries and hot meals to those who were hungry and replacing items for those who have been victimized. They do it not because they are police officers, but because they are human beings who instinctively extend their hand to help someone else in need.

I often write about police officers who tarnish the badge and abuse their position of authority because I believe it is our duty to shine the light in those dark places. The reality is that the majority of officers are reflections of the acts I’ve described. They use their power for good and like true heroes, prefer to do so when no one is watching and expecting nothing in return.

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